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Judge declares mistrial in 2002 murder trial

Joel Lebron one of 5 men accused in case

MIAMI – The judge overseeing the trial of Joel Lebron, one of five men accused of kidnapping, raping, and murdering Ana Maria Angel in 2002, declared a mistrial on Thursday.

During Miami Beach Police Detective Larry Marrero's testimony on Thursday, he said "the previous defendant that's convicted now," reported Local 10's Glenna Milberg.

After hearing from both prosecutors and defense attorneys, Judge William Thomas declared a mistrial.

"This court is forced -- forced -- to grant the motion for a mistrial because a veteran detective took the witness stand and made a statement that was not relevant and, in this court's opinion, highly prejudicial to Mr. Lebron's ability to get a fair trial," said Thomas.

"A lot of people, when they come into the courtroom, they're under a lot of pressure. They're a little nervous about things," said defense attorney Jeffrey Fink.

A new jury will be selected next Wednesday.

"Our interest is to make sure both sides get a fair trial. That's our only concern," said prosecutor Reid Rubin.

Earlier in the day, Marrero, the lead detective on the case, told the jury his first priority was finding Angel. Detectives eventually found all five defendants in Orlando by tracing Angel's cell phone.

Marrero testified that Lebron told police the group had driven to Miami Beach to go clubbing.

"He said that all the individuals decided to commit a robbery because they didn't have enough money to continue to party," said Marrero. "So, they all were in on a robbery."

Marrero said Lebron admitted to committing the robbery.

"They went on to the beach. He tried to find a victim. They weren't able to do so, and then finally, he hid himself in some bushes very near the truck," said Marrero. "He saw a couple come down the walkway and he grabbed the male victim by the arm, pointed a weapon at them, a firearm, a gun, and he ordered them into the truck."

Marrero said Lebron told detectives he had the gun as he forced Angel and Nelson Portobano, Angel's boyfriend at the time, into the truck. Marrero then detailed what happened next.

"Joel Lebron demanded she take her panties off," said Marrero.

Marrero continued, describing the rape in detail.

"Hector Caraballo demanded that she open her legs, and she complied. She was crying and begging for them to stop. 'Did they stop?' No," said Marrero. "Joel said that Hector Caraballo was vaginally raping her... They ordered her to turn around, and then Joel Lebron vaginally raped her. 'And what is Ana Maria Angel doing while Joel Lebron is raping her?' She's crying and begging for them to stop. 'Did he stop?' No, sir."

Portobanco took the stand Wednesday, describing the kidnap and rape of his girlfriend.

Angel was 18-years-old in the spring of 2002, two months from graduating South Miami High, when she was out celebrating an anniversary with Portobanco on South Beach when five people kidnapped them and forced them into their truck at gunpoint, said investigators.

As they rode north to Orlando where the defendants came from, Angel was repeatedly raped and Nelson was beaten, said prosecutors. Police said Portobanco was eventually thrown out of the truck along I-95 and left for dead.

The five are accused of killing Angel execution-style at the side of I-95 near Boca Raton to keep her from identifying them.

"She knows what's going on and she's begging him not to do this to her," said Marrero.

Police said Lebron, now 33, was the gunman.

A jury was selected Tuesday evening. Many in the jury pool told the judge they remembered the case, even ten years later.

Three of the five have been convicted. Two were sentenced to life in prison; one is awaiting a second sentencing hearing since his death penalty sentence was overturned.

If convicted, Lebron could face the death penalty.